The death of a child is a devastating loss for parents; the loss of an unborn child may not only be devastating, but also involve a more complicated grief process. In an article published in “Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience” in 2012, researchers reported that lack of adequate social support is one of the factors that complicates the grief process for parents of an unborn child. If you have an adult child, sibling or close friend who experiences the loss of an unborn child, you may be one of the first persons the grieving parents will look to for support.
Understand that for the parents, the death of an unborn child is like the death of any child. Do not falsely assume that the loss won't be traumatic.
Be careful what you say to the grieving parents. Simply saying “I am so sorry” and “I am here for you," can be healing. Avoid saying things like “you can try again,” or “it was better now than later.”
Ask the parents what they need from you to help grieve their loss. Don't assume that what you think would be supportive is what they actually need or want.
Be aware that the grief process is a process unique to the individual and will involve a range of emotions in response to the loss of their unborn child. These may include shock, anger, depression and acceptance.
Recognize that men and women grieve differently. Mothers often feel a sense of shame and responsibility about the death of an unborn child. Fathers sometimes experience feelings of helplessness or a sense of isolation if more support is directed toward the mother.
Encourage the parents to do something to memorialize their unborn child, such as planting a tree in their yard or make a donation to a special charity. Consider inviting other friends and family members to participate in the activity.
Pay attention to your own needs. You may be also be grieving the loss of your unborn grandchild, niece or nephew, or simply feeling profound sadness for the grieving parents. Be aware that your own grief process will also involve a range of emotions and you may need to seek out your own source of support.
Stay in touch with the parents. Because grief is a process, it may take some weeks for the shock of the loss to wear off. This is the time that deeper sadness can overwhelm them and they will need your continued support.
Sonya Lott, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania, who offers online and in office counseling to individuals struggling with grief, loss or a life transition. She also facilitates mental health workshops for educational, professional, and community groups and maintains a blog on her website www.drsonyalott.com.
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